Greater Greater Washington

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Apply for the RAC, if you really have time

The WMATA Riders' Advisory Council is opening up applications for new members. Should you apply?

If you live in Prince George's County, definitely. There is an open seat right now that is not filled.

If you live elsewhere, please apply if you're interested in making a real time commitment beyond just showing up to one meeting a month.

One-third of the RAC's members are up each year. WMATA Board members can choose to reappoint them or go with someone else. Besides the Prince George's vacancy, 7 positions are up for reappointment: 2 in DC, 2 in Fairfax County, one each in Arlington and Alexandria, and one at large.

These seats have existing members on the RAC, who might apply to be reappointed and might not. For example, I am one of the DC members up for reappointment and I will be repplying. But I don't know if the other existing members will apply or not, or if they will get reappointed if they do.

Typically, the Board member(s) for each jurisdiction decide who to appoint. For example, Elizabeth Hewlett, the Prince George's voting member, will probably choose the Prince George's appointment.

When making these decisions, I'm going to be encouraging Board members to look for people who can make a time commitment to the RAC. The group meets once a month, but there's no way to really get much done in one two-hour meeting a month. We can hear a staff presentation on an issue and ask one question each or give a brief comment, but that's really not a strong voice of riders. The RAC should do much more.

This year, we've started having committees, which the RAC had originally but then dropped. There's a bus committee, and the news about the Pennsylvania Avenue bus reroute came from a rider attending that committee. I chair a Long-Term Projects Committee, and that's where we got the staff presentation on the rationale for design decisions on the 7000 Series railcars.

The RAC has a special role as a committee chartered by the WMATA Board which gives them special powers. In particular, the Board often asks staff if they've consulted with the RAC on important issues, which means the RAC can get presentations on plans which might not otherwise be public yet. They take RAC input more seriously than others.

But the RAC can't do this unless it has a number of members who can take time to organize and attend committee meetings. Last night, we had a presentation on fare policy principles. Many of these principles were the same things being debated during the budget negotiations, and they will affect the shape of any future fare increase. Only two members and one member of the public showed up to speak with the two staffers taking an extra couple hours to get rider input. To be frank, that's pathetic.

Many of you ask questions about bikes on the system, or escalator outages, or SmarTrip problems, or issues with station agents, or bus stop placement decisions. RAC members are interested in many of these issues too, but can't get presentations on all of them in the regular meetings, and when there is a regular meeting presentation, there isn't time to really delve into the issue. We spent two hours just on 7000 Series railcars, which is why we know so much now.

To get a real discussion about this, we need someone on the RAC who wants to organize a committee meeting to hear about one of these issues, and a number of members who want to attend a meeting. Everybody doesn't need to attend every committee meeting, but if every member can go to about one a month on average, there would be plenty to go around.

There are a few members who regularly go to the bus committee, which is working well. The budget committee was also a big success earlier this year, and Carl Seip, the at-large member up for reappointment, organized that and did a nice job. But I suspect about half of the RAC's members have not participated in any committees this year.

If you would like to spend at least 2 evenings a month hearing in detail about Metro issues (and perhaps then writing about the issue for GGW to share with more riders), please apply to the RAC. Please make it clear in your application that you'd like to do this, and the Board might even pick you.

Even if you don't get on, members of the public can attend the committee meetings, and we had a number of folks not on the RAC at the 7000 Series meeting as well as others asking some very excellent questions. You can continue to participate in that way and help grow the rider voice.

But if you just would be interested in showing up once a month to be on a rider focus group where you give your quick reaction to a staff presentation and then go home, it might make more sense to just keep reading Greater Greater Washington instead.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

Comments

Thanks for discouraging folks who really don't have the time and don't have a commitment to more than just showing up at the monthly meetings. As an original member of the RAC during it's first three years I can tell you that it was very frustrating to see members attending to find out what was going on with Metro, rather than having done some homework and being ready to participate effectively during the meetings. Most of the members were just looking for the recognition that they were indeed members, and the most they contributed was to complain about something to do with the bus line or rail service in their own neighborhoods. most members did not "represent" the jurisdiction from which they were chosen. The RAC can indeed be an important body, but only if it's members take their service seriously.

by Kevinm on Sep 30, 2010 8:12 am • linkreport

Do you know when the final decisions on appointments will need to be made?

by Joseph on Sep 30, 2010 8:20 pm • linkreport

The appointments will be made in December.

by David Alpert on Sep 30, 2010 8:39 pm • linkreport

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